In Barbara Kay’s column in the National Post, “The other side of the domestic abuse story,” she asserts that while there are court mandated anger management programs for men who commit intimate partner violence (IPV) to her knowledge there are no court mandated anger management programs for women who perpetrate the same. This assertion prompted Jonathan Kulman, a co-ordinator at one of the anger management programs in Ontario, to write a letter to the editor of the National Post.
In his letter Mr. Kulman claims that there most certainly are court mandated anger management programs for women and that he works with both male and female perpetrators of IPV. This letter prompted Ms. Kay to write, “When women get angry, it’s not their fault.”
Ms. Kay wrote that when it comes to court mandated anger management for male abusers vs. female abusers in a nutshell we’re talking apples and oranges. She states that while the court mandated programs for men in Canada, “assume that male anger springs spontaneously from the innate, or socially constructed urge to control women (and children), [the programs for women assume that] …women’s anger, [is] always reactive, [and] arises from their helplessness in coping with frustrations beyond their control.” In other words, men abuse women because our patriarchal society entitles them to do so while women abuse men because they are frustrated and can’t help themselves.
What Ms. Kay maintains about the differences in anger management programs (a.k.a. Batterers Intervention Program’s (BIP’s) in the US from what Ms. Kay describes above) for men and women is not only true in Canada but also here in the US. As of 2008 45 US states had adopted standards for BIP’s for men to adhere to in order for them to be approved to receive referrals from courts. There are thousands of BIP’s for men in the country and over 100,000 men have been sentenced to complete these intervention programs. However, to my knowledge, there are no requirements or standards and only a handful of programs available for women who are arrested for IPV.
The reason for this is history. Our system of IPV prevention and intervention took root via multi women’s movements back in the 1970’s and they were built on the principle that men commit IPV against women out of a need to oppress, control and dominate them. This philosophy on IPV has steadfastly held for over 30 years and has left no room for alternative theories. Given that premise how can women be held responsible for their violence?
Prior to BIP’s being firmly established men who were arrested and/or convicted for IPV were often compelled to attend anger management programs. Anger management programs are on average eight to 15 weeks long, insurance may cover the cost of attendance, and the classes are focused on learning techniques for reducing stress and controlling anger impulses.
BIP’s were created, with the input and approval of battered women’s advocates, because those who worked with battered women vehemently opposed the use of anger management programs for men who were charged with IPV. Women’s advocates felt that men’s use of violence in the home was a choice and could not be excused by being stressed or out of control.
BIP’s are 26 to 48 weeks in length and insurance companies won’t cover the cost so the participant must pay a weekly fee for attendance. Fees are generally $20 a week and up depending on the income of the participant. If the participant misses classes and/or refuses to take responsibility for the abuse in the relationship (even his partner’s abusiveness and/or controlling tactics) then he may be removed from the program. The consequences for removal from the program may be jail time.
This excerpt out of, “Safety for Women: Monitoring Batterer’s Programs,” by Barbara Hart reflects the way the earlier battered women’s advocates viewed men and IPV:
All men benefit from the violence of batterers. There is no man who has not enjoyed the male privilege resulting from male domination reinforced by the use of physical violence . . . All women suffer as a consequence of men's violence. Battering by individual men keeps all women in line. While not every woman has experienced violence, there is no woman in this society who has not feared it, restricting her activities and her freedom to avoid it. Women are always watchful knowing that they may be the arbitrary victims of male violence. Only the elimination of sexism, the end of cultural supports for violence, and the adoption of a system of beliefs and values embracing equality and mutuality in intimate relationships will end men's violence against women.
Domestic violence is about power and control. A feminist analysis of woman battering rejects theories that attribute the causes of violence to family dysfunction, inadequate communications skills, women's provocation, stress, chemical dependency, lack of spiritual relationship to a deity, economic hardship, class practices, racial/ethnic tolerance, or other factors. These issues may be associated with battering of women, but they do not cause it. Removing these factors will not end men's violence against women.
Batterers behave abusively to control their partner's behavior, thereby achieving and maintaining power over their partners and getting their own needs and desires met quickly and completely. There are also many secondary benefits of violence to the batterer. A batterer may choose to be violent because he finds it fun to terrorize his partner, because there is a release of tension in the act of assault, because it demonstrates manhood, or because violence is erotic for him. Violence is a learned behavior and batterers choose to use violence. The victim is not part of the problem. The victim may accept responsibility for causing the batterer to lose their temper, but the truth is, the abuser must be held accountable for his behavior….
Society (in the US at least) has changed a great deal since this was first published 22 years ago. Today a woman can work in just about any profession she wants, men can be stay at home dads, do the dishes and the grocery shopping without reproach, and for a number of years more women than men have been attending colleges and getting degrees.
Given the changes in society we would be hard pressed to find a significant number of Generation Y and Z men who believe they have more privilege than women. However, battered women’s organizations continue to promulgate this single theory of IPV and to fight for new laws, federal funding and educate the masses about violence against women only.
Ours is a more egalitarian society today than it was 30 years ago, much to the credit of women’s rights activists, yet our services for the prevention and intervention of IPV are still stuck in the 1980’s. The Duluth model, created 31 years ago and considered the gold standard for batterer’s treatment programs, and its offshoots the Emerge and AMEND models are the most widely used programs by the courts for referrals. These models are based on this feminist or pro feminist theory that IPV mirrors the patriarchal organization of society. BIP’s must have the input and approval of battered women’s advocates. It’s no wonder that services for male victims and standards for intervention programs for female abusers are still an afterthought.
Some abusive men may benefit from the psycho-educational, skill building curriculum of these models but surely not all abusive men. Researchers and others have long questioned the effectiveness and exclusiveness of this “one size fits all” approach to treating abusers. Studies found that BIP’s have had little or no effect on subsequent IPV and that the programs did not change batterer’s attitudes toward women and battering.
Studies have been conducted and alternative theories have been developed as to why IPV may occur in some intimate relationships. One theory, the family systems model, regards the problem behaviors of individuals are a manifestation of a dysfunctional family, with each family member contributing to the problem i.e. mutually combative relationships where neither partner has control and power over the other partner. Another, the psychotherapeutic model of IPV, focuses on the individual and holds that personality disorders or early traumatic life experiences predispose some people to violence.
Our prevention and treatment models for IPV must be brought up to date. We are doing a grave disservice to male and female victims and abusers as well as their children by not integrating these theories into our prevention and intervention programs.